Sundari Kraft is an urban homesteader in Denver, Colorado, who hopes to change the way eaters think about and access healthy foods. She is educating the public and trying to change government policy through grassroots activism that encourages people to live sustainably and grow produce.
Her key achievements in Denver are helping to formulate and pass a policy to allow Denver residents to raise up to eight ducks or chickens and two dwarf goats and a residential sales ordinance allowing small-scale residential preparation and food sales without food licensing. These changes have made it easier for people to access fresh food options. Kraft’s goals are to create a thriving local food movement and healthier communities.
Kraft is the founder of Sustainable Food Denver, founding co-chair of the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council, and founder of one of Denver’s first multi-plot urban farms. She is the recipient of the 2017 Dr. Virgilio Licona Community Health Leadership Award, an honor from the Colorado Health Foundation to recognize Coloradans who find innovative and effective strategies to overcome community health barriers. She now works full-time on policy and grassroots engagement.
Food Tank had the opportunity to talk with Kraft about efforts to increase access to healthy, affordable food in urban centers and how to organize a grassroots movement.
Food Tank (FT): Micronutrient deficiencies and food swamps result in poor health. What can be done by eaters to address these issues? By companies? By policymakers?
Sundari Kraft (SK): While there seems to be an ever-changing stream of advice on the ‘best’ diet, doctors and experts generally agree that increasing vegetable and fruit consumption is a good way to be healthier. In my experience distributing vegetables through Community Supported Agriculture and at the farmers’ market, many people don’t consume vegetables because they don’t know how to prepare them. Encouraging the proliferation of simple cooking classes (nothing too gourmet or intimidating!) and other forms of cooking instruction, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way toward empowering people to eat their veggies. It would be great to see more of these kinds of classes in schools, and perhaps more can be done to highlight veggies in those catchy social media cooking videos.
Recent reporting by Vox has supported what I’ve noticed anecdotally—that people eat more veggies when they take part in gardening. Policies and programs that encourage home gardening (including the use of front yard and community spaces for food production) are good ways for policymakers to positively impact vegetable and fruit consumption.
I’ve recently noticed efforts by commercial food sellers to offer more produce options—like fresh fruit cups at 7-11 or raw veggies at Starbucks. Ultimately, companies will cater their offerings to consumer demand, so the most effective way to increase the availability of healthy food commercially is to do enough public outreach/education in support of buying these foods.
FT: You encourage ‘urban homesteading.’ How does this have the power to transform the American health and food system?
SK: As I mentioned above, there are good indications that taking an active role in growing produce increases the consumption of produce. The more that people—especially children!—invest time and effort in their gardens, the more they’ll be motivated to use all the veggies that they grow. The same holds true for backyard urban livestock, like chickens and dwarf dairy goats. Goat ownership tends to lead not just to fresh milk consumption, but experimenting with homemade yogurt (which likely has much less sugar added than store-bought yogurt), cheeses, etc.
As someone who is currently working with family farmers, I also hope that involvement in homesteading—however small—will help people further appreciate the incredible work that our farmers do.
FT: One of your legislative successes is a policy to allow Denver residents to raise chickens, ducks, and dwarf goats within the city limits. How practical is this in an urban setting and how do you hope this will benefit individual health?
SK: Anytime someone is considering raising an animal—whether it’s a chicken or a dog—they need to make sure that they have the appropriate space, tools, and time to adequately care for that animal. That being said, city-appropriate food-producing animals can absolutely be raised successfully in an urban backyard. These animals are no more difficult to care for than the pets that we’re used to seeing in cities (like dogs and cats)—it’s just that most of us haven’t grown up with them and we’ve lost the knowledge of how to care for them. Luckily, there are a number of books focused on urban homesteading, as well as classes in some cities focused on backyard chickens or goats.
Food producing animals offer families an accessible source of healthy protein, and the typical surplus of milk that you can get from a dwarf goat allows people to experiment with things like homemade yogurt and cheese. Anything you make from scratch in your home will be less processed than 90 percent of the comparable products you can find in the store, and generally will be healthier for you. It is important for families raising goats to research pasteurization and make informed decisions about how to use their goat’s milk safely.
FT: What other policies are you pursuing to increase accessibility to healthy foods?
SK: Right now I’m working with family farmers, supporting their efforts to educate the public about science-based sustainable farming practices. Ultimately, if we can support all of our farmers in growing food as sustainably as possible using a variety of methods, it will increase our capacity to produce food locally and support our local livestock. It’s a different scale than the work I’ve done in the past (production agriculture compared to urban homesteading) but I continue to be a cheerleader for those that are taking steps to increase access to healthy foods, including the recent passage of the Residential Sales Ordinance in Denver (which allows gardeners to sell excess produce to neighbors from their front yards).
FT: As a grassroots organizer and leader, what are your successful strategies for consensus building in the current political environment?
SK: I think it’s important to move beyond labels and slogans and find the shared values that exist underneath. For example, I think that most people would say that they believe in sustainable agriculture, but they may have a very different idea of what sustainable agriculture looks like depending on where they’re from and how they align politically. If you’re trying to connect with a particular person or audience it’s important to be sensitive to what they value and to focus the conversation on how their values align with what you’re trying to accomplish.